Handmade Indian Drums

by Ocean Malandra Google
Indian drums come in a variety of styles.

Indian drums come in a variety of styles.

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With a rich and varied musical culture that stretches into ancient history, India is a country where live percussion is part of everyday life. Many types of drums exist, each with its own particular function within an ensemble or as a standalone instrument. Because most modern drums have been in use for long periods of history, they usually were developed as handmade drums. Even today, handmade drums are prevalent in India and are being made with techniques often passed down for generations.

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The Tabla

The Indian drum with the most renown outside of India itself, tablas are handmade sets of two drums used in North Indian (or Hindustani) classical music. The smaller wooden one, called the Dayan, is played with the right hand while the left-hand drum is made out of metal or ceramic and played with the left. Tablas are handmade in four different stages, each employing its own different craftsman specialized in a different aspect of tabla making. The craftsmen are called tablawalas, and the tightly packed shops where they do their work are called tabladukhans.

Mridang: Barrel Drums

Mridang is a term used to describe a class of drums shaped like barrels and including two of the most popular percussion instruments in India, the Pakhawaj and the Mridangam. The Pakhawaj and the Mindragem are very similar: Both have heads on both sides, one larger and one smaller, and both are played with both hands simultaneously. The Pakhawaj is used primarily in the north, where it was once the most popular drum until the tabla came along. The Mrindangam is played in the south, where it is an important instrument in South Indian (or Carnatic) classical music. Both drums are still hand constructed in India, where both heads are tightly laced onto a barrel-like jackwood frame.

Indian Kettledrums

Another common class of handmade Indian drums are the kettledrums, which are commonly called Nagada, Nagadda and Nagara. The drums were traditionally used to call warriors to battle and to communicate within a village. Originally, kettle drums were made from ceramic, with animal hide stretched over the open side of the bowl and fastened with leather webbing. Modern kettle drums are often made with metal bowls, but the animal hide head and leather webbing remain similar to the traditional designs.

Other Handmade Indian Drums

A wide variety of other Indian drums exist, many of which play certain specific roles in village life and have a history that goes back for hundreds of years. The Ghatam, for example, is made of clay and actually has an open top. The player strikes the side of the drum to produce the desired tone. The Tasha is a large flat terracotta drum that is traditionally hand fashioned. It is played not with the hands but with bamboo sticks. The Damru, which used to make monkeys dance in some villages, is a handmade double-headed ceramic drum that is often brightly painted.

About the Author

Based in San Francisco, Ocean Malandra is a travel writer, author and documentary filmmaker. He runs a major San Francisco travel website, is widely published in both online and print publications and has contributed to several travel guidebooks to South America.

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